Do you miss 90s shooters like Doom, when level design was paramount to the extent that certain level designers actually became pretty well known? Do you dislike reloading guns, regenerating health, having to fire in short bursts to retain accuracy, and moving slower than your average jet fighter? Do you like cheesy, swear-filled dialogue; amusingly rubbish voice acting; and over-the-top gore? In short: do you want a 90s shooter with 90s sensibilities, updated to look and feel like a modern game? If so, Rise of the Triad is for you.
In pretty much every way that matters, this reboot/remake/reimagining/reI’mmakingupwordsnow is a 90s shooter with all the expected pros and cons. It’s lightning fast, and 90% of your arsenal is pinpoint-precise. Realism is out the window, so levels are less “brown corridors” and more “big rooms full of spinning blades of death rolling past collectible coins”, or “tiny platforms floating above giant lava rivers”, or “ascent up a pair of physically impossible towers”, or “pedestals containing heavy weapons that rise out of reach when you approach, as secret walls open and enemies attack.” Or all of the above, on the same map. And then there’s robots and death monks.
So yes, it’s traditional. Because of the tricks, traps, and individual design, I can actually remember the layouts for a few levels, which isn’t something I can say is true of Serious Sam or Painkiller – while they focused on 90s speed and gunplay, their combat usually played out in large, loosely connected arenas. Rise of the Triad, on the other hand, focuses heavily on level design to the extent that the name of whoever designed the level is written on screen as the level loads. Which is exactly how Daniel Hedjazi has wound up on The List for the utterly infuriating E2L2. I will find you, sir, and I will shout at you for that bloody fire pit section.
It’s also traditional in that it’s really sodding hard, to the extent that I nearly had to resort to cheats to beat the boss of episode three. Fortunately, it’s usually pretty fair with its difficulty, even when it’s being unfair (obtusely enough) – melee enemies might be hidden around corners or right behind you when you drop into a pit, and walls may open to reveal angry death squads as you proceed down featureless corridors, but this feels like par for the course.
You get used to it, and you start trying to anticipate the level designer, which is a fun little metagame in itself. If you pick up that prominently-placed key in the big empty room, you know enemies will spawn, but… oh. They didn’t. And then, guard lowered, you stroll back outside and there are two of them just outside the door.
I did say it’s “usually” pretty fair with its difficulty, though, and there are exceptions. Do you remember the second paragraph, when I said that this “is a 90s shooter with all the expected pros and cons”? Well, there are cons.
First and foremost is that Rise of the Triad really likes platforming sections. First-person platforming has never worked in anything that wasn’t called Mirror’s Edge, and – while your chosen protagonist controls extremely tightly – you’ll often be required to leap onto tiny moving platforms, and because you move pretty fast and have a bit of inertia, you will overshoot them and plummet down. There is a reason most shooters stopped doing this.
Did I mention that most of these platforming sections take place above insta-death pits, or lava rivers, or spike traps? And did I mention that the game only has checkpoint saves, at the start of each major section of the level? Get used to replaying large swathes of the maps again and again as you desperately try to make one fucking jump. I can live with dying due to horrible deathtraps or huge amounts of powerful enemies, but jumping?
But it’s hard to dislike Rise of the Triad for this sort of thing, because– no, I take that back. It’s very, very easy to get massively frustrated with Rise of the Triad and quit out of it because of this sort of thing, but the frustrations are somewhat forgiven when you wander into basically anything else. This is a game that makes shooting feel good, and it has enough heavy weaponry and things to shoot with that heavy weaponry that you’re doing stuff that feels good pretty much 90% of the time.
Part of that’s down to its arcade leanings – everything gives you points, and shooting enemies causes numbers to float up the screen. If you point a machine gun at something and hold down the left mouse button, the screen will quickly fill with rising “+2”s, which is instantly gratifying. Doing this also fills the screen with gore. Lots of gore. This is a game with a Ludicrous Gibs bonus if you splatter something close by, after all.
It’d be remiss of me not to talk specifics about the weapons, though, because the ones you remember are all back. You’ve still got the Flamewall sending out a rushing, forest fire-esque inferno. The Firebomb causes a massive series of explosions that tactical nukes have cause to envy. Heat-seeking rockets, split missiles, and drunk missiles are all in, as is the excellent Excalibat, best described as Cthulhu’s haunted baseball bat. Power-ups and power-downs, from the screen-swirling Shrooms to the pinball-y Elasto mode, are back, as are God mode (letting you shoot bolts of pretty blue death from your outstretched hand) and Dog mode (letting you bite people in the crotch, or explode them with a Barkblast). There are many ways to kill your enemies, and so many weapons lying around that there’s rarely a reason to save ammunition.
But – platforming aside – the game does have one other sizeable problem: bugs. I’m hoping that some of this is down to my review copy not being release code, but I fear that’s not the case.
I’ve fallen through geometry and walked outside of a level. I’ve blundered through a coffin that was inexplicably not as solid as the others around it. I’ve had my weapons locked away until reloading the game. I had to restart the final boss battle twice, once because he vanished through the floor, and once because he became an invincible physics object that just ping-ponged endlessly around the stage. Hilarious, I’ll grant you, but not conducive to a top-notch gaming experience.
Look: you probably already knew whether Rise of the Triad was your sort of thing before you even clicked on this review. If you’re after a shooter that really is a throwback to 90s gaming, only prettier, shinier, and with some decent updates, then – bugs and frustrations aside – you’ll get your money’s worth out of this.
The easy way to describe this is something I’ve probably said about other games before: this is what Duke Nukem Forever should’ve been. It’s a loving homage to its predecessor, stuffed with trivia about the original game and a lot of little nods to it, and it updates everything to modern standards while sacrificing little of what made the original unique along the way. That’s good and bad – there are a fair few frustrations with some of its more archaic design elements, and this makes it far more annoying than it should be – but if it’s your sort of thing, it’s unlikely to disappoint.